Suicide and the College
Half of the College of William and Mary’s student body has, at least once, received an email informing them of a suicide on campus. It’s important to remember this during National Suicide Prevention Week, an initiative that, while incredibly important, could be more visible on campus. While it is difficult to marshal enthusiasm and resources for various awareness weeks throughout the year, and especially in September, suicide prevention ought to remain a priority, lest we get complacent.
We would, however, like to highlight the success so far in suicide prevention at the College. Last year, the Student Assembly approved funding for Tribe Rides, a mental health initiative that provides students with rides to off-campus counseling sessions at an affordable price. This relatively simple service does a world of good, relieving already troubled students of additional stress. We look forward to future programs that show a similar level of awareness and sensitivity.
The Counseling Center also continues to do important work, but it must integrate more fully into campus culture. While recent student initiatives have produced wonderful results and progress, the Counseling Center itself has not seemed particularly visible. It is not enough for student organizations like Health Outreach Peer Educators and the Student Health Center to promote the Counseling Center. The Counseling Center itself has to do it, too. Having a vibrant on-campus presence is crucial to weakening its stigma among students. Students ought to know the specific services offered at the Counseling Center and the types of problems it addresses — and the Counseling Center is responsible for effectively communicating that sort of information.
Allowing students to make appointments online, rather than just by phone, is one particular change the Counseling Center should make in order to increase its accessibility. It may not seem like much, but the act of calling to arrange an appointment for a mental health issue could actually deter some students who are ashamed to admit they have a problem to a stranger. It is hard enough admitting it to a friend. Some students may not be scheduling appointments because they don’t feel comfortable doing so; however, they may change their minds if the first step is even slightly simpler.
And that brings us to our final point: what you can do to help prevent suicide. The College is a very stressful place, and you’re not doing it right if you’re not busy. That makes it all the more important to observe your friends, talk to them, ask them how they are, and not necessarily take their responses at face value if your gut tells you otherwise. It will not be easy, and you will likely have to break through powerful psychological barriers, but a conversation — a connection — can potentially mean the difference between life and death. Additionally, if you’re trying to decide whether to ask after a friend if something is wrong, remember there is no downside to doing so. Either way, your friend will be glad you considered him or her.
Let’s have a conversation about suicide. We will need to be supportive and talk about it maturely. It will be rough, messy, sad and probably unresolved. But it will matter, and we will all be the better for it.